This past week, the Nationals ran a little experiment. They put Felipe Lopez in LF, and he seemed to play the position alright. As of Monday morning, he started 3 games in LF and moved there in another. He hasn’t hit well so far, but he has drawn a couple of walks which is nice to see. Regardless, I’m not going to criticize this move. With Elijah Dukes and Wily Mo Pena out, there aren’t many other options. If Lopez can play LF, Acta has a much more versatile bench, and his bat is probably better than Willie Harris or Rob Mackowiak. At least if Lopez doesn’t repeat his 2007. But it got me thinking. What would Lopez look like starting in LF? How would he compare to the rest of the league?

I ran a list of the guys who have at least 300 ABs in LF, to see how Lopez stacks up. Also, let’s look at how he stacks up to 2B and SS in the league, with the same 300 AB minimum. In terms of how to compare, I thought the easiest way to compare though was plain old on base plus slugging, OPS. It is a good measure of overall performance, even if its not perfect. Lopez is in interesting case, his career average is a little tricky to use because his first 4 seasons were all as a part time player. He had one very good season, 2005, with power numbers that are probably a little high thanks to playing in Cincinnati, but otherwise a realistic good season for him. 2006 was a middle-of-the-road type season, starting off strong but losing all power once he moved to RFK (while increasing his OBP). 2007 was a disaster. I’m not even comparing that one, because if that is how he’s going to produce, he’s not playing any position. So I’ve compared Lopez in ’05 and ’06 to everyone else’s 2007 season.

Lopez OPS

Well there are a couple of things that stand out here. First is that his good season in 2005 makes him good for any position. He’s an above average LF with those numbers, but he is a great 2B or SS. Only the middle infield superstars are above him at that position, plus one Placido Polanco. That wasn’t so surprising to me, but what was more surprising was the result from his mediocre 2006 campaign. In ’06 he was something like a replacement level LF hitter but in the middle infield he was ok but below average for a 2B. And as a SS, he’d be considered just about an average producer. Clearly with using OPS as a metric, he can justify his bat much more in the middle infield, whereas in the OF, he is not very useful

But wait, you say, Lopez isn’t a power hitter! So isn’t just OPS a little unfair? He’s a leadoff hitter type, he won’t be driving guys in, he’ll be setting the table, you say. Hey, even Jose Reyes was only ranked 14th on that list, and we all know he is a great offensive player. Well, please stop interrupting, I was getting to that. Perhaps OPS isn’t the best measurement for Lopez. His job is to get on base, as a potential leadoff hitter. And if his job is to get on base, then on base percentage, OBP, would be a better measure of his effectiveness. So where does he rank there?

Lopez OBP

Ok, so here the pattern remains, but its not as strong. It’s interesting, when you compare him to other guys playing LF, OBP-only makes him look worse in his good year. And as a middle infielder, it makes him looks worse, too. But we do see that even in his average or bad 2006, he stacks up decently with the league in terms of getting on base.

It’s an interesting perspective. It seems that there are plenty of 2B with higher OBP than the 2005 version of Lopez but overall, using OPS, he is better than most. In LF, he ranks miserably low with OPS, but his OBP is not bad. At SS, he is strong no matter what. If he continues to play in LF for the whole season, he will rank as one of the worst OPS guys. Its the difference in power, from a good year to a not so good one, that is the big difference on how he stacks up.

But if he can get that OBP up enough, he will still be a successful offensive force. However, if it remains at levels anything less than what he had in 2005, he seems to be wasting a lineup spot playing in LF, as the Nats could get similar production out of a LF from AAA. Further analysis would probably be needed to confirm that his ability to swipe a few bases doesn’t offset his negatives too much, but I have a strong feeling that what we see here is most of the story.

We’re not so much smarter than them, I guess

On opening night, Manny Acta said that he liked Nick Johnson’s high OBP. Last week, I read that Peter Abraham (via the Pinstriped Bible) noted that Joe Girardi keeps a copy of Baseball Prospectus 2008 by his desk. If he reads it, Shelley Duncan may have some trouble getting playing time. Old school guys think that newfangled sabermetrics don’t really show the whole game. They’re right, they don’t. But what is happening is these stats are so useful that they are becoming part of the game the way batting average and ERA is (which, by the way, are also stats invented by people trying to better show the game through numbers – they were just invented 100 years ago). Whether Joe Morgan likes it or not, the stats have changed the way people look at the game, and now it seems to be more and more pervasive.

By Charlie